What is a karonkka?

By Shaun Hendy 05/11/2009 1

I’m on my way to Helsinki at the moment to examine a Finnish PhD thesis. The University of Helsinki PhD exam is quite different from its New Zealand counterpart. To start with the thesis itself is a merciful 40 pages, although it is accompanied by 6 refereed journal articles. Overall the body of work is roughly comparable to a good New Zealand PhD thesis.

But most significantly, the oral exam is conducted in public. I am called the Opponent — after a short presentation from the candidate I am expected to question the candidate for approximately 2 hours. At the end of this period, questions can come from the public.

One thing the Finns have stressed is the dress code. This was mentioned in the official invite I was sent:

On such an important day it is worth dressing elegantly, and not to show up wearing jeans and a worn-out pullover, something that has occasionally been the case in Sweden.

Those crazy Swedes! Suffice to say that I had to send my measurements for a tailcoat and waistcoat a few weeks ago.

After the exam itself, I understand that I will be sequestered while I write my report on the exam.

Then comes the karonkka. I am told that karonkka literally means coronation, but on this occasion it is a dinner to celebrate the success of the candidate (apparently only two candidates in the 355 years of the University have failed the public exam, and having read the thesis it’s very unlikely there be a third by Friday). While I suspect the karonkka will not be good for my liver, my job as Opponent is (luckily) pretty much over at this point — it will just remain to toast the newly minted PhD.

It is a great privilege to be able to participate in such a tradition. This is also my first visit to Finland, a country that shows up strongly in my patent studies.  

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